Going Nowhere

Going Nowhere (photo)

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Of the forgotten nonpareils to have been found by DVDing in the neglected, semi-seen recesses of Luis Buñuel’s world-class filmography, none may seem odder than “Death in the Garden” (1956). A semi-Marxist workers’ rebellion drama that segues into a lost-in-the-wilderness survival adventure? Shot in Mexico with a famous French cast (Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Charles Vanel) right in the middle of the filmmaker’s “Mexican period,” during which the world had supposedly forgotten about him? In color? Except it’s not so freakish when you remember he shot a version of “Robinson Crusoe” two years earlier, in color, and that his Mexican films were making it to the Venice and Cannes fests, even before the earthquake of “Viridiana” in 1961.

Thumbnailing a filmography of almost 50 years is never easy or effective, but more to the point is the startling realization of how much Buñuel there is still to see. I count over a dozen Buñuels yet to be released on digital home video in our region (though several are available in French and Japanese editions), and a few that have never been released in any format ever. It goes without saying that theatrical revivals have not been a satisfactory recourse.

To appreciate a hybrid oddity like “Death in the Garden,” first you must toss the epithet “Surrealist”; if Buñuel is the only substantial Surrealist filmmaker, that’s exactly like saying he’s not Surrealist at all but merely Buñuelian. For that we can be thankful — Surrealism on film most often comes off as childish and redundant, and so Buñuel, in his infinite wisdom, modified the aesthetic to fit his sensible and sardonic temperament and circumstances.

The result is a filmography giddily high on the irrationality of ostensibly rational humanity, which Buñuel’s cinematic universe addresses with varying cocktail recipes of jaundice, amusement, dreamy vision and nihilist anthropology. This is why the exhumation of the forgotten movies is vital: you have to embrace the oeuvre’s entire thrust — you have to become a naturalized citizen of Buñuelonia — to grip his greatness. “Death in the Garden” brings us to a far corner of the territories, where Buñuel meets Werner Herzog, plunging into the Mexican jungle (standing in for an unnamed South American craphole where French is the only tongue), and exploring the suffocating wilderness for the difference between it and the domains considered fit for human society.

But we begin in a scrubby mining town, where insurrectionist diamond diggers are staging an overthrow of the local authorities, and where everyone else, from the police to the resident hooker (Signoret), are goldbricking scum. No news there, in terms of Buñuel’s perspective, but Vanel’s naïve miner is considered almost saintly, while Piccoli’s fresh-faced priest, while compromised, is so four-dimensional and flexible in his thinking that he’s not only perhaps the only cleric in Buñuel’s filmography that isn’t a mercenary hypocrite, but he’s also emblematic of Buñuel’s greatest characters, so open-minded and unpredictable and congenial that he’s a stand-in for the auteur himself. (The whole ensemble of “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” even while being mercilessly mocked, are all Buñuel avatars.)

11242009_DeathintheGarden2.jpgPressure in the town rises, riots break out, gunfights (!) and revolutionary street combat ensue. When a lone adventurer (Georges Marchal) wandering through gets framed and Vanel’s hapless schmo gets wounded, the two end up hijacking a boat heading down river, along with Signoret’s irritated tramp, Vanel’s mute daughter (Michèle Girardon) and Piccoli’s optimistic missionary.

Buñuel is no slouch in on-location action staging, by the measure of the 1950s, but the totemic use of the river and the jungle is remarkable, and might be seminal — it cannot help but recall Herzog’s use of location, although it’s entirely unlikely that Herzog, as a Bavarian schoolboy who never saw movies and never used a phone until he was 17, could’ve seen this sketchily available film. (Even Girardon, with her silky hair tangled in the overgrowth, evokes the nobleman’s daughter in “Aguirre,” vanishing into the leaves.) “There are animals all around us, eating each other, and we never see them,” someone groans as the renegades wander in the greenery starving, a plight temporarily redeemed, in a grand stroke, by the discovery of the ruins of a crashed plane, littering the rain forest with inappropriate objects.

Salvation and rosy character arcs are not in the offing, of course, but madness is. “Death in the Garden” — the bitter, Edenic irony of the title stings — is nothing if not a soak in existentialist fatalism, leavened by genre excitement and Buñuel’s fascinated regard for his fellow humanoids. It is also, it should be said, fantastically gorgeous — credit is doled out to cinematographer Jorge Stahl Jr. and to the mastering team, and the movie looks as if it were shot yesterday.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.